Background information: Be Visible Be Seen
Seeing and being seen are fundamental pre-requisites for the safety of all road users. Inadequate visibility is an important factor that influences the risk of a road crash among all types of road users. In South Africa approximately 40% of road fatalities are pedestrian fatalities and accident investigations often reveal that the pedestrians have not been visible to motorists.
The World Health Organization has provided more detail on the need for visibility on the road in the World Report on road traffic injury prevention. These findings include the following:
In highly-motorized countries, inadequate visibility plays an important role in three types of crash:
- at night, vehicles that run into the rear or sides of slowly moving or stationary vehicles
- during the day, angled or head-on collisions
- at all times, rear-end collisions that occur in poor weather conditions
In low-income and middle-income countries, the poor visibility of pedestrians and vehicles is a serious problem. The mix of motorized and non-motorized traffic, together with poor street lighting, increases the risk of unprotected road users not being seen. Non-use of low-cost interventions such as bicycle lamps or reflective equipment exacerbates already unsafe conditions.
The extent to which poor visibility contributes to road traffic crashes varies between countries, between types of road user and types of studies.
- A large proportion of pedestrian and cyclist collisions in low-income countries occur around dusk, dawn or at night, possibly because of poor visibility.
- Colourful clothing, accessories and vehicle parts can make pedestrians, riders and non-motorized vehicles more visible to all road users. Never assume that you have been seen – many disturbances might attract the attention of the motorist. Be wary. Most drivers are nice people, but don't count on them paying attention. Watch out - make eye contact to be sure they see you!
- Brightly coloured clothing or accessories may be suitable alternatives to the reflective vests that are used in high-income countries. The use of bright colours for wheels and rear ends of non-motorized vehicles (e.g. rickshaws) may also have the potential to increase visibility. Pedestrians must, if possible, not walk in the road but on the pavement. If there is no pavement, walk as near to the edge as possible, facing the oncoming traffic.
- Reflective armbands or reflective strips on clothing or book cases could also enhance visibility of scholars.
Cyclists / Motorcycles
The lack of visibility is a significant factor in crashes between cyclists and cars. It is important for cyclists to do their part to make sure that they are seen. It is acknowledged by responsible cycling and biking groups that road safety is a dual responsibility. Even though you might be able to find your way in the dark at low speed this does not mean that you are safe - the other road user might not be able to see you! A bike ridden in the dark or even low light must have a red light on the rear and a white light on the front. They can be flashing or steady, but they must be visible for at least 200m.
- Wear bright clothing and it is best if some of it is reflective.
- Ankle bands attract attention because they’re moving.
- Reflective material can be seen from all angles unlike lights which need to be in line of sight to be visible
- ‘Daytime running lights’ are those used on the front of motorized vehicles (two-wheeler or four-wheeler) to improve visibility while traveling during daylight hours. Some countries have made the use of daytime running lights mandatory.
- Daytime running lights for motorized two-wheelers have been shown to reduce visibility related crashes in several countries by between 10% and 15%
- A New Zealand study found that wearing white helmets and highly visible clothing would reduce visibility-related motorcycle collisions by 45%
- Reflective vests used by riders of motorized two-wheelers can increase visibility. However, some reflective vests used in high-income countries may be inappropriate for many low-income and middle-income countries because of the differences in climate and cost. Brightly coloured clothing or accessories may be suitable alternatives.
- To increase the visibility of cyclists, many high-income countries now require that bicycles are equipped with lights and with front, rear, and wheel reflectors. Studies in the Netherlands suggest that use of bicycle lighting could reduce the incidence of bicycle collisions by 30%.
- Laws requiring mandatory daytime running lights can reduce the incidence of daytime crashes of four-wheeled vehicles by 10–15%. The use of car daytime running lights can also reduce pedestrian and cyclist collisions.
- Daytime running lights have been shown to be a cost-effective intervention in many countries in the northern hemisphere.
- High-mounted brake lights, positioned on the back windscreen of cars, increase their visibility. The use of these brake lights has led to a 15–50% reduction in rear-end crashes. These lights have been adopted in many countries.
- Perhaps the smartest piece of legislation in recent years have been the requirement to add reflective strips at the back of trucks and trailers – this is proof that a little expense can save much!
When driving in South Africa, it is important to consider local conditions. Many informal settlements in South Africa are situated next to highways –thereby increasing the risk of further pedestrian fatalities. Children attending schools in rural communities walk several kilometers next to the roads to and from their schools. It is important for motorists not only to concentrate on their own ability to see – but also on the ability of other motorists and road users to see them!
Also see Driving in the Fog: Safety Tips.